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From Air Force to Alyeska: Successful start to intern partnership

Over more than 20 years serving in the Air Force, Aaron Kirby wanted to expand his IT savvy and evolve it into a career. But he was so good at maintaining and repairing sophisticated jet fighters and jamming pods, and an endless array of not-so-complex electronics and hardware, that he was seemingly stuck in a job he liked but did not love.

With his Air Force retirement arriving in August, Aaron found an opportunity to immerse himself in IT learning and a new professional setting: an internship with Alyeska’s IT team, established by a partnership between Alyeska and the U.S. Dept. of Defense’s SkillBridge program. As his abbreviated two-and-a-half-month internship (most SkillBridge internships are six months) neared its end in early May, Aaron reflected on his time in the Anchorage workplace.

“I have enjoyed working at Alyeska and have been part of the team from the first day,” he said. “What has really stood out to me is how much people enjoy working here. There is a sense of pride in their work. This has been really refreshing. … My opinions were valued and I was given an opportunity to weigh in on projects. The complexity of how all the different systems work together was eye-opening.”

Aaron’s maturity and ambition has also made him the unique intern who was ready to run when he walked in the door.

Aaron, center, with some of his Alyeska IT teammates. From left, Stephen Wing, Julia Craft, Justin Olsen and Mark Kondrak, Alyeska CIO.

“Aaron has been phenomenal,” said Justin Olsen, IT Services Portfolio Manager and Aaron’s supervisor. “He’s a self-starter and if you give him a task, he’ll find a way to a solution. He’s learned a lot about IT and project management, been involved in many projects, and has gotten a level of exposure to our work that a new hire typically wouldn’t because of his experience.”

Bringing in talented and ambitious military members transitioning into new careers is exciting for Alyeska, too, said Tracey Mueller, Alyeska’s Employee Relations & Recruiting Manager. This unique military-to-civilian transition program allows Active Duty military to enter into an internship during their last 180 days of service. Tracey sees the partnership as a win-win for all parties, and is thrilled with Aaron’s experience as Alyeska’s first SkillBridge intern.

She said partnerships like this help “support Alaska Military and assist service members in gaining additional skills and knowledge that will ensure a successful transition to the private sector workforce. Many of the skillsets that the military trains in are compatible to Alyeska job roles in Cyber Security, HR, Procurement, Contracting, IT, Telecommunication, and all technician roles.”

Alyeska is an active supporter of the military in Alaska and participates in job fairs and workforce panels for military joining the private sector. Aaron met Jacquelynn Towner, Recruiting & Personnel Services SME, at a job fair at Elmendorf Air Force Base. He inquired about IT roles and told Jacquelynn about the SkillBridge program. After some research on the program with her HR teammates, Jacquelynn called Aaron back for an interview with Mark Kondrak, Chief Information Officer. Within a few months, Aaron was interning on Kondrak’s IT team.

Aaron’s time at Alyeska was exactly what he was seeking: IT experience and a sense of civilian life in a traditional professional setting. He started with IT Architecture and then moved to IT Project Management, and noted the support and synergy he felt working alongside IT members Julia Craft, Heidi Miles, and Steven Wing.

“I have learned a lot about IT and how it affects the rest of the company,” he said. “I really have enjoyed working with the PM team … and I have worked on some of the high-profile projects.”

He added, “The SkillBridge Program has helped me learn to be a civilian again. I had to think about what to wear. Business casual means a lot more than uniform of the day. … I have always wanted to work in IT, but the military wanted me working on the F-22. I think this is a great opportunity for transitioning members to see what it is like in the outside world and how their skills translate to the corporate world.”

His supervisor, Justin, knows that well. He also has a military background, having served in the Air National Guard for 25 years and also specializing in avionics. He started at Alyeska in February and officially retires from the Air National Guard at the end of May. He is also familiar with the SkillBridge program and the impact it can have for transitioning military members.

“It’s very different to go from providing government services for 20-plus years to a civilian workplace,” he said. “SkillBridge gives them an opportunity to dip their toes into the civilian sector. They can gain experience and exposure, learn the language and culture of those workplaces.”

Aaron said he was immediately inspired by Alyeska’s culture of safety, teamwork, and the organization’s new Mindsets.

“It has been really cool to see people take the eight Mindsets to heart,” he said. “The people I have met at Alyeska enjoy being here, they put safety and the mindsets into everything they do.”

Following his retirement, Aaron hoped to get better every day at Alyeska as a full-time employee. He tested for and passed the Project Management Professional Certification during his internship, and applied for an Alyeska Project Associate position … which he landed! He started his permanent IT position on May 13 while using banked leave from the Air Force through his August retirement date.

Tracey and Alyeska’s recruiters look at this program, like many internships, as typically a 6-month interview for the company (Aaron’s internship was shortened due to other circumstances) and for the intern to consider their options. With Aaron’s success and the SkillBridge/Alyeska solid partnership in place, Alyeska’s recruiters envision this program continuing in the future.

“We will continue to grow this program,” Tracey said, “and we have other departments looking at potential SkillBridge candidates.”